After playing four Chalmers-esque regular season games against the Boston Celtics, Dwyane Wade donned his smock and painted a masterpiece in Game 1. To say Wade singlehandedly killed the Celtics would be to hurt James Jones’ feelings and overlook Lebron’s contributions, but the former Marquette superstar was at his attacking best, especially while scoring 21 points in Miami’s dominant first half.
Yesterday, I praised Boston’s defense for forcing Wade into tough shots. After re-watching each of his shot attempts, I realize I gave credit where none of it was due. Instead of seeing reality, I was viewing the game through the murky window of Wade’s heroics. Yes, some of the shots Wade managed to squeeze into the bucket would have been judged a 9.0 for difficulty. But on many occasions, Boston’s defense abandoned Wade as if he were a bit player rather than one of the NBA’s top-five talents.
At their best, the Celtics are a five-stringed puppet being controlled by puppeteer Lawrence Frank (with a tip of the hat to Tom Thibodeau’s principles). They load help-side defense on one side of the floor and force Wade and superstars of his ilk into tough jump shots. At their best, nothing comes easy for opponents, especially opposing superstars, all of whom the Celtics pay supreme attention to. But yesterday was decidedly less than Boston’s best.
Wade’s tough enough to stop when the Celtics play perfect defense, never mind when they lose him like an absent-minded person might lose his car keys. The Celtics knew exactly where he was one second, and then, just like that, he was gone. On the following play, Ray Allen chases a shadow at the three-point arc while Wade cuts behind him straight to the hoop.
There’s an excuse for losing certain lesser players. But to lose Dwyane Wade takes a brain fart loud enough to wake up the neighbors. And to do it twice? Unfathomable.
It’s tough to criticize Allen after the shooting display he put on. But the Celtics need a greater attention to detail on the defensive end. Allowing Wade easy looks doesn’t merely give the Heat points, it also fuels Wade’s confidence and makes difficult shots seem a little more simple.
Of course, not every Wade bucket was a back cut resulting in a wide open layup. At other times, he beat Boston’s set defense like it wasn’t there. Here, off-ball action leaves Allen out of position, slightly trailing Wade. That’s all Wade needs to get past him to the baseline. While Allen certainly could have done a better job sliding his feet, he’s not entirely to blame for Wade’s easy bucket. Help defense never comes. Glen Davis either A) becomes preoccupied with some Lebron screening action that’s already being properly defended by Kevin Garnett, B) picks his nose, or C) daydreams of his next hot dog, and meanwhile Wade finishes the hoop and the harm without Davis even realizing what’s going on.
Repeating an earlier sentiment, Boston’s defense is predicated on five men working in unison. When one player gets beat and help doesn’t come—and against Wade and Lebron, help will be needed—the Celtics can look bad. We’re unaccustomed to such mental lapses from the guys in Green, but even the Celtics are susceptible to off days.
So far, I haven’t given the Heat enough credit. Because they surround Wade and Lebron with capable shooters, helping becomes more difficult. The Celtics can’t afford to leave Mario Chalmers, Mike Bibby, Mike Miller or James Jones because all of those players can hit outside shots. So the help has to come from the big guys. In the following possession, note how far Nenad Krstic has to come to help, just because Boston’s afraid to leave Miami’s shooters alone.
In classic Krstician fashion, he’s a day late and a dollar short. Rather than stopping Wade outside the paint, Wade’s able to waltz into Boston’s interior and make a relatively easy shot. But Miami’s ability to spread the floor with shooters forces Krstic to come a long way, making help-side defense a greater task.
What’s good about Boston’s defensive lapses against Wade is that they are correctable. The Celtics have shown the ability to rotate on a string in the past, and can certainly improve in Game 2. What they need to focus on is giving early help to Wade, forcing him into contested jumpers rather than open looks in the paint. Even yesterday, Boston at times showed the ability to execute its defensive gameplan.
In the following play, Ray gets beat initially. It’s Dwyane Wade—that happens. But Kevin Garnett has already rotated into perfect help position, so Wade takes a contested stepback jumper rather than an easy layup.
The Celtics can defend Wade better, and they can do it more consistently. If they don’t on Tuesday, Game 2 could unravel in a similar fashion to Game 1, with Boston being torn to shreds by a superstar who didn’t receive enough defensive attention.